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Cost of clearing land & what's involved?

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  • Cost of clearing land & what's involved?

    I'm spoiled now, living on a farm with established pastures. I'm thinking of moving to upstate NY and I've found a place that sounds ideal, aside from the fact that there is no pasture. The owners are calling it "lightly wooded." They said they cut down the big pines and left the hardwoods to grow in. It's hilly, they said. I have yet to see it, and see if it can work for us.

    The price is right, and the house looks like it will work, but I have no idea of the cost of clearing land and what's involved in doing so. I know this issue was brought up in one of the latest threads on farm buying, and wanted to mine the COTH brain trust on this one.

    Is this something I can do with my tractor? Contract out? There's 16 acres, so I know I can set aside some portion as an organic "dump." What about making the ground safe for turnout after it's cleared? How long to establish pasture, etc.?

    Any help is greatly appreciated, as always.
    The aids are the legs, the hands, the weight of the rider, the whip, the caress, the voice and the use of extraneous circumstances. ~ General Decarpentry

  • #2
    What I have done with our 4acres of woods and called lumber mills and companies and the can give you the numbers to people that will take the trees for free. If there are enough they will actually pay you to take them and then you have someone come out with a big cat and push over the stumps and level it out, you don't want to stump grind them. The best way they told me to do it though is to have the tractor people come and push the trees down and then the tree man will cut them and take them and then the tractor guy will come back and either pile up the stumps to burn or bury them or he will load them into dump trucks to haul them away. depending on how much you want to spend on the dump trucks. WIth 16 acres it won't be cheap though. I found a guy that will do it for 5,000 and that to haul away stumps, but I had estimates up to 30,000 an acres-those folks were crazy so get lots of estimates and take your time finding the right person.
    Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


    • #3
      Upstate NY is a relatively "high cost" area for labor. If you can get somebody to take the trees for pulp then you're likely looking $3000-$5000 per acre. If they have no market value and you have to take them down and burn them then you will probably add $1000 or so per acre.

      The above presumes the use of appropriate equipment. If you want to play "pioneer" and do it yourself it will be MUCH cheaper, but will also take you much longer.

      Before you do anything check with the local extension agent. He/she will be able to give you a pretty accurate number for the exact location you're considering.

      Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


      • #4
        I would also be aware of how rocky the ground is. Being upstate NY, I would bet that there will be a good deal of rock. That, and also presuming that it is fairly vertical as well, it may not be the best land for trying to establish pasture.
        At best, with good soil and seed/water, it will take a year to establish pasture. Add that to how long it will take to clear and level it and you could be looking at a couple years at least before having any pasture.
        I am not trying to be pessimistic here, but we bought ground here in KY that is partially wooded thinking the same thing: Oh, we'll just clear it and plant pasture. We have since found out that if you want pasture, just buy pasture! IMO, the money you end up throwing at clearing ground would be better spent just buying cleared ground.
        Good luck!
        Equine Retirement at


        • #5
          It will be expensive and messy and time consuming and be a long time before it's good, settled, pretty pasture.

          I'd keep looking. Or accept that you might have some tree-y paddocks, and no real pastures. That's my life carved out of our 32 heavily wooded acres. My 5-6 acre pasture is a tree paddock more than it's a pasture. SO had it selectively cleared by an idiot who didn't bother to worry about erosion (nor did SO, to be fair) then I showed up and put horses out there. It would support one horse, maybe. Not 4.

          Best wishes, it's hard to find the right thing. I'd expect you'd spend 3-5K per acre getting it cleared to decent dirt and stumps gone. Making it a pasture? Keep your wallet out


          • #6
            we cleared about 3 acres of lightly wooded area that was mostly bursh a few oaks and walnut trees and saplings with a rented skidsteer and a grapple attachment, it took 2 days, the i paid a guy to take down some trees and left some trees and then we bushhogged and plowed and limed and seeded, its been 3 years, i don't have very good pasture but i wasn't tryng to get pasute, i have ir and cushings horses, you have to plant some kind of grass tho, oh and i got goats. call the county agent also for info about how to manage it, i also had the forestry guy out here to help me figure out what was best to get rid of and what trees were best to keep
            initially i had contacted some lumber co's about clearing out 15 acres but i didn't want to wreck the place, i wanted trees and habitat, we have eagles here and other type hawks
            the other thing someone down here does is selective clearing using oxen, i haven't talked to the guy
            also since we have some farms around here, there are guys who during off season will do work as far as light land clearing and pasture establishing fairly cheap, we have one guy that is allowed to use the equipment from the farm he works at down the road and he charges 15 bucks an hour to plow and spread, you supply the seed, lime or fertilizer and fuel


            • #7
              I am in upstate NY and my farm had pasture land when I moved onto the property 13 yrs ago. I do know that removing trees is a project. Getting the stumps out alone is hard though certainly possible. Clearing should be done professionally if you can afford it. There will likely be rocks, and the soil could be clay...I am not trying to be discouraging so please don't take it that way.
              You will know more what that definition of lightly wooded means when you see the land. And ask what the soil is so you can get an idea of drainage...Good luck - keep us posted!


              • #8
                I bought a completely wooded property in MD in 2002. It was a great price, but its been a pain to clear and the pastures still aren't fully established! The first 5 acres had really nice old hardwood. We sold the lumber and had the stumps pushed out to one corner of the pasture in the woodline. It was ugly for a while, but now you don't even notice it. The trees we sold, paid for the stumps to be pushed out and the area graded.
                In Oct 2007, we had 3+ additional acres cleared. The area had been lumbered out about 15 years ago, to the trees weren't as large. And this time, we had the stumps removed and the ground raked and graded. We also had the contractor remove some red maple that were a little too close to the pastures. The cost was about 20K (Average around MD was $7500/acre...but that was when diesel was hitting a high). It took 2 weeks to complete the project and the guy was super nice and professional. The land is clear, but its still not completely level and we find holes where the ground is settling unevenly. There are still some small roots that stick up. Also, since the hardwood leaves make the soil acidic, it took lots of lime to neutralize the soil for planting. And don't forget to add the expense of fencing! We installed the fence ourselves and it still ran around $2.75/ft for three board fencing. All in all, it was still cheaper than purchasing cleared land in this area, but it was a long, frustrating process!


                • #9
                  Land clearing in this area (NC) runs about $2000 -2500/acre for the basics. That's pushing the trees into a pile for burning. Figure more if it needs a root rakeIf it's hilly, you may need terraces. Wooded land is usually low in fertility and pH. You'll need lots of lime and fertilizer. If you can leave the horses off of it, you can get an established pasture in about a year. If you can't, it could takke a long time. Pay back on all of that work is poor, so, as somebody already said, your better off buying pasture than creating it.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by equusus View Post
                    I would also be aware of how rocky the ground is. Being upstate NY, I would bet that there will be a good deal of rock. That, and also presuming that it is fairly vertical as well, it may not be the best land for trying to establish pasture.
                    At best, with good soil and seed/water, it will take a year to establish pasture. Add that to how long it will take to clear and level it and you could be looking at a couple years at least before having any pasture.
                    I am not trying to be pessimistic here, but we bought ground here in KY that is partially wooded thinking the same thing: Oh, we'll just clear it and plant pasture. We have since found out that if you want pasture, just buy pasture! IMO, the money you end up throwing at clearing ground would be better spent just buying cleared ground.
                    Good luck!
                    April -
                    My hubby inherited 79 acres in SE Ky. His dada had some lumber company buy the trees they logged. Also - since his dad knows a local farmer he's allowing the guy to use the land (til we retire up there). That farmer has run cattle, mowed weeds and planted grass. That pasture now looks better than my Florida pasture.

                    Went up over Xmas and drooled at the green grass.
                    Now in Kentucky


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by rabicon View Post
                      What I have done with our 4acres of woods and called lumber mills and companies and the can give you the numbers to people that will take the trees for free.
                      How did you figure out which companies to call? Google? County Extension agent?


                      • #12
                        I saw an interesting show on PBS recently and the man was talking about foresting in the Northeast. At any rate, they would have a portable saw mill come out and then cut and drag the trees to the mill. They were milled right there on the property to whatever dimensions they needed. Depending on what kind of trees - you could work out a deal with the miller maybe 50/50 split. You would have to pay for a laborer to cut down the trees though. It was really neat because once down they were cut into 8 foot sections and rolled out on a cart especially made for logs. The mill was right there and they were cutting 6x6 posts.

                        When we first bought our land we contacted a timber company to come out and give us a price on the trees. Meaning we had them tell us how much they were going to pay US for the trees. You would be surprised. We kept all of the cypress and oak and sold large pine. We made enough to do a modest remodel on the old farmhouse before we rented it out.

                        Just a thought if you are willing to put in the time but again like eveyone said it would probably be cheaper and easier to just keep looking for more suitable horse property. Sometimes when you already have the land just do what my daughters suggest - "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." Just make it work.


                        • #13
                          It's important to remember that there's a reason that trees are growing on that land, and not grass. It's not an accident. Trees like different kinds of soil and moisture and climate conditions than grass. You may be able to clear it and then amend the soil enough to get grass to grow there, but it's not just a matter of sawing down trees and putting some grass seed out. It will also take some time to establish enough roots so the horses don't rip it to shreds.
                          If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                          • #14
                            Beware the portable saw mills.

                            There are few guys who have them around here. A while back I needed some wood fence boards and got a quote from one of them. When all the stuff was added in, it was cheaper for me to go to a sawmill 30 miles from here and buy rough sawed boards. The price from the mill was about 60% of what the portable mill guy wanted. And that included the price of transport.

                            Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


                            • #15
                              When we bought an additional 60 acres, (it was cow pasture 40 years ago) half was wooded hillside and half is flat bottom. We worked out a deal with the logger ( off course we didn't get full price for the wood) to do the restoration and he took the hardwood off the hill and cut switchback trails for us and restructured the bottom and the creek and even prepared a site for a new run-in. The bottom will be hay field in about 3 years, seeded with orchard grass and timothy and the hill side will be additional pasture. He a horse guy so made certain to take every red maple, cherry and black walnut off the new pasture as well. The entire project has taken a year and it will be ugly for a while, but worth the effort.
                              Now we just need to drill a water well.....


                              • #16
                                I just cleared 3 acres up here in NH, and I was quoted 10,000 ac acre. That was clearing, stumping and putting stumps in a pile.
                                I shopped around and was able to find a logger to clear it for 2,500 total. He used it for pulp.
                                I then hired an excavator who charged me 3,000 to stump and put in a pile. I did not want it buried, it is illegal to burn stumps or trees larger than 10".

                                When I initially purchased my property, it was raw land, and was treed. I had it cleared and stumped, and buried the stumps. A few years later I had multiple sink holes, and it was absolutly frightening. That is why I had them pushed to one corner this time and have fenced it off.

                                I would say about 5,000 an acre, but in today's economic crunch, you might be able to get it less, since the excavator wants his machine working. As far as the logger, they are getting nothing for the tree so you won't be able to make money on that end, or so I am thinking. If they use it as pulp, generally you have to pay.

                                I would contact the county ext agent as well for information. ALso, NRCS, Natural Resource and Conservation Service for advice. Also, you can purchase a soil map, and see the types of soil on the property. It could just be a field abandoned and trees grew but a soil map will be your best indicator.
                                Both those agencies should be able to help you with getting a soil map, as well as ideas on cost.

                                As far as time to become useful...
                                I would get it york raked by a local farmer. Then soil sample to determine lyme, fertilizer, etc. Then seeded. I would let that set for a year, and mow in the fall.

                                A fields' best friend besides lyme here in the northeast is mowing.

                                Your horses should be good to go the following year on it, maybe if you push it, that fall.
                                Just section off an area you want to use as a sacrafice area, put down stone dust to prevent it from getting too muddy.
                                save lives...spay/neuter/geld


                                • #17
                                  We are in Michigan....so I'm sure the cost would vary from location to location.

                                  We had 4 acres cleared of very dence woods. First they came through and cut the trees down and ran them through a mulcher. Than another crew came back and removed all the stumps leaving huge holes in the ground. After that an excavator came in and leveled the ground, only to find that it was "low land" that flooded, and than we had to add tons upon tons of back fill. Excavator came back to dig and level all the fill. After that the fencing went up.

                                  $1000 per acre to remove trees
                                  $1000 per acre to remove stumps
                                  $300 per hour for excavator = 8 hours per day of a 2 week job
                                  $8000 for tons of back fill clay
                                  $3000 for fencing

                                  We did this 10 years ago when the market was good in Michigan....Now it might not be so expensive.

                                  Get it priced before you look at buying it. Have and Excavator "shoot the grade" to make sure it will not flood. The back fill alone could break the deal.

                                  You can see some pics on our web page....Under Renovations.



                                  • #18
                                    Also remember it takes a *long* time for wooded land to become grazing land. It's not a single season thing.
                                    I agree with the $5k an acre to have it done...that's clearing, destumping and grading. You have to grade after you destump any area that has a lot of stumps. Otherwise you have holes, soft areas, puddle causing ditches, mud holding spongy ground, etc. Doing it yourself saves a ton of money and takes a ton of time. So there's the decision to make...time or money.
                                    Around here in CT between the cost of labor and materials and considering the heavily wooded and often rocky hilly ground...the average cost of getting one acre of woods to field and including fencing it in is about $5k-$6k. It's also an average of 12-18 months before that cleared area is useable as grazing. And that doesn't include if you need topsoil, lime, fertilizer and seed. The topsoil can get expensive as heck. But...if yoou bring the horses home into a smaller sacrifice dirt paddock, every 6 months you spread your manure pile over and into the newly cleared areas. Gets rid of manure and starts making new topsoil for free, just some labor involved.
                                    You jump in the saddle,
                                    Hold onto the bridle!
                                    Jump in the line!


                                    • #19
                                      10 acres of land which was formerly logged, full of stumps and wood litter. We used a local excavator at 500.00/ day- took him 8 days. It's also creek bottom land and fairly rocky. But we will seed in the spring and hopefully have some decent pasture by spring of 2010


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Thanks for all the information. It's looking less and less appealing, in terms of price, feasibility and time. Really good advice here and greatly appreciated.
                                        The aids are the legs, the hands, the weight of the rider, the whip, the caress, the voice and the use of extraneous circumstances. ~ General Decarpentry